by Kenneth Oppel (Author)

Reading Level: 6th − 7th Grade

Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow's nest, being the ship's eyes. We were two nights out of Sydney, and there'd been no weather to speak of so far. I was keeping watch on a dark stack of nimbus clouds off to the northwest, but we were leaving it far behind, and it looked to be smooth going all the way back to Lionsgate City. Like riding a cloud. . . .

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

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Kirkus Review - Children

Entrancing, exciting adventure with airships, pirates, and mysterious flying mammals takes place on an earth with the same geography as ours but different technology. Fifteen-year-old Matt works as cabin boy on the Aurora, a two-million-pound airship kept aloft by gas cells filled with hydrium, the lightest gas in the world. Matt loves the skies; aground, he feels stifled and claustrophobically disconnected from his late father, who was also an Aurora worker. Kate, a rich passenger Matt's age, boards the Aurora in search of furry, flying sky mammals mentioned in her late grandfather's journal but unknown to anyone else. A pirate attack forces an emergency landing on an uncharted island in the Pacificus ocean. Matt's intricate knowledge of his ship and Kate's cheerfully stubborn determination bring them, scrabbling hard, to victory over the brutal pirates and discovery of the wondrous cloud cats. Full of a sense of air, flying details, and action. (airship diagram) (Fantasy. 10-14)

Copyright 2004 Kirkus Reviews, LLC Used with permission.


Gr. 6-8. Matt Cruse is a cabin boy aboard the luxury passenger airship Aurora when the ship encounters a battered hot air balloon with an unconscious man aboard. Before dying, the man claims to have seen beautiful creatures swarming in the air over an uncharted island. Not until a year later, when Matt meets the man's granddaughter, Kate de Vries, who boards the Aurora, does he learn that the man wasn't hallucinating. Pirates board, rob, and kill, and a fierce storm grounds the Aurora on the very island that Kate's grandfather spoke about--which proves to be the pirates'secret hideaway. Though readers will need to suspend disbelief of the mysterious flying creatures, which Matt and Kate call "cloud cats,"details of life and work aboard the ship as well as the dramatic escapade itself make this a captivating read.

Copyright 2004 Booklist, LLC Used with permission.

Horn Book Magazine

In a breathtaking opening sequence, cabin boy Matt Cruse on the airship Aurora spies a hot-air balloon slowly sinking in the night sky, its pilot unconscious in the gondola. Within minutes Matt is harnessed and swinging four hundred feet above the ocean for a daring midair rescue. Though Matt saves balloonist Benjamin Molloy, the elderly man dies the following day after mumbling some cryptic words about "beautiful creatures." A year later, Molloy's granddaughter Kate travels on the Aurora hoping to learn more about the strange winged mammals the balloonist wrote about in his journal. "Cloud cats"--magnificent creatures that live solely in the air--are among several fanciful elements in this novel, which is set in an alternate Edwardian-styled past that's both familiar (wireless radios, Lumiere projectors) and exotic (giant "hydrium"-filled airships traverse the "Pacificus" and "Atlanticus" oceans). Matt is a wonderfully enthusiastic narrator whose passion for flight is evident on every page, and he's well matched by the strong-willed, intellectually curious Kate. Their adventures in this fast-paced, buoyant novel have a sweeping, cinematic feel as pirates attack the Aurora, the vessel is shipwrecked, and Matt and Kate escape imprisonment just in time to dispatch the bad guys, save the Aurora and its passengers, and, of course, fall in love.

Copyright 2004 Horn Book Magazine, LLC Used with permission.

Hornbook Guide to Children

Matt Cruse, a cabin boy on the airship Aurora, helps rescue hot air balloonist Benjamin Molloy. Later, Molloy's granddaughter Kate travels on the Aurora hoping to learn more about the strange winged mammals the balloonist wrote about in his journal. Set in an alternate Edwardian-styled past and featuring an enthusiastic narrator, this is a fast-paced fantasy-adventure.

Copyright 2004 Hornbook, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

In crisp, precise prose that gracefully conveys a wealth of detail, Oppel (the Silverwing Saga) imagines an alternate past where zeppelins crowd the skies over the Atlanticus and the Pacificus, and luxury liners travel the air rather than the sea (references to films by the Lumiere "triplets" and various fashions suggest a very early 20th-century setting). Young Matt Cruse works aboard the elegant passenger airship Aurora, where his late father also worked. In an exciting opening sequence, Matt rescues an injured old man flying solo in a stranded hot air balloon; the man later dies, but not before telling Matt of "beautiful creatures" that he saw sailing through the air. Matt's curiosity about the man's dying words is piqued a year later when the fellow's granddaughter Kate arrives on board, bearing his journal. As other plot lines develop, pirates attack the Aurora, which crash-lands on an island that closely resembles a drawing in the old man's journal. There are minor, pleasing shades of the film Titanic throughout-the rich but overprotected girl, the poor but daring and lovable cabin boy, and the vessel itself, which is a sprawling and multifaceted character in its own right-but Oppel places the emphasis squarely on adventure rather than romance, keeping the pace brisk and the characters dynamic. The author's inviting new world will stoke readers' imaginations-and may leave them hoping for a sequel (those curious for a preview can log onto Ages 12-up. (May)

Copyright 2004 Publishers Weekly Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 6-10-An original and imaginative Victorian-era fantasy. Matt, 15, only feels alive when he's aloft working as a cabin boy aboard the Aurora, a luxury airship that is part dirigible, part passenger cruise ship. When wealthy Kate and her chaperone come aboard, Matt soon discovers that she is determined to prove her grandfather's claims that he saw strange creatures flying in the sky in that area the year before. The man's diary describes them as huge, furry beasts with batlike wings and sharp claws. Soon after Kate arrives, pirates attack the ship and rob the wealthy passengers. A storm forces the damaged Aurora to set down on a seemingly deserted island. Kate and Matt discover the skeletal remains of one of the creatures, and, later, a live but deformed one that lives among the treetops. In their attempts to photograph "the cloud cat," they stumble upon the pirates' hideout and are captured. Can they escape in time to stop the brigands from stealing the Aurora? Will Kate prove the existence of this undiscovered species? This rousing adventure has something for everyone: appealing and enterprising characters, nasty villains, and a little romance. Oppel provides glimpses of the social conventions of the era, humorous byplay between the main characters, and comic relief in the form of Matt's cabin mate and Kate's straitlaced chaperone. Reminiscent of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines (HarperCollins, 2003), this adventure is much lighter in tone and has a lower body count.-Sharon Rawlins, Piscataway Public Library, NJ

Copyright 2004 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Firewing: "Plenty of rousing action; special effects on a grand scale; a leavening of humor as well as stimulating thoughts."—School Library Journal
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
May 20, 2005
BISAC categories
YAF001000 - Young Adult Fiction | Action & Adventure
YAF019000 - Young Adult Fiction | Fantasy | General
Library of Congress categories
Imaginary creatures
Michael L. Printz Award
Honor Book 2005 - 2005
Grand Canyon Reader Award
Nominee 2007 - 2007
Texas Lone Star Reading List
Commended 2006 - 2007
Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Book Award
Nominee 2007 - 2007
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award
Nominee 2007 - 2007
Nutmeg Book Award
Nominee 2007 - 2007
Black-Eyed Susan Award
Nominee 2006 - 2007
Rhode Island Teen Book Award
Nominee 2006 - 2006
Young Reader's Choice Award
Nominee 2007 - 2007
Beehive Awards
Winner 2006 - 2006
Louisiana Young Readers' Choice Award
Nominee 2007 - 2007
Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award
Third Place 2007 - 2007
Evergreen Young Adult Book Award
Nominee 2007 - 2007
Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award
Nominee 2006 - 2007
Young Adult Canadian Book Award
Honor Book 2005 - 2005
Iowa Teen Award
Nominee 2008 - 2008
Isinglass Teen Read Award
Nominee 2006 - 2007
Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award
Honor Book 2006 - 2006
Governor General's Literary Awards
Winner 2004 - 2004
Virginia Readers Choice Award
Winner 2009 - 2009

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